Aquarius just collided with history: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has been assassinated, and unlike the war or the looming presidential election, there’s no turning off the TV to tune this out. King’s death sets off a series of race riots across America; as tension builds in Los Angeles, the LAPD and the Panthers can agree that they don’t want to see the city burn, but that’s about where their common ground ends. Consider the Shafe household divided.
Courtesy of the FBI, the Panthers’ phone lines are down, so Commissioner Garrick sends Sam and Shafe to deliver a message: He wants the Panthers to agree not to riot. They’re on board for that part, but they don’t appreciate being asked to cooperate with any action that already has the support of black separatist Richard Tendaji. Bunchy hates Tendaji — he sees him as an FBI puppet. Shafe doesn’t help the situation. When Sam is called out to a murder scene, Shafe is left to hand over the commissioner’s letter on his own, putting his wife on the spot.
Kristin figures the LAPD sent her husband because they knew she associated with the Panthers (and she’s right), which makes her feel exposed. Shafe only makes it worse. He keeps telling her to go home, and he won’t give her any details about Panther HQ surveillance, claiming “official police business.” Bunchy didn’t even know that Kristin was married to a cop in the first place. When Shafe says that avoiding riots is “all the commissioner is requesting,” he hands Bunchy the last straw. “Your so-called officers of the peace don’t make requests of my people,” Bunchy declares, tearing up the commissioner’s letter. “You beat us, and you kill us.”
The unrest is growing in Watts, where a young black woman named Louisa Burnside is found murdered. Her cousin Steve says that he saw Jeff Snyder — a white man whose father, Moses, is Louisa’s boss and landlord — fleeing the scene after calling the LAPD. Jeff liked Louisa, who lived with Steve and his mother until Jeff practically gifted her an apartment in the same building; Steve suggests that his cousin rejected Jeff, and he killed her for it. But Louisa was dead long before Steve claims to have seen Jeff running away (“Although coming back to the scene and pretending to discover the body is the stupid kind of s— that killers do all the time”), and Sam can tell that Steve is hiding something.
The pressure is on Sam from all sides: Moses, a millionaire slumlord and prominent Reagan supporter with a lot of pull in the precinct, insists that his son is innocent, but the neighborhood is already convinced that the LAPD is trying to protect a white killer. Sam’s job doesn’t get any easier when he gets word that Louisa was three months pregnant. Jeff is the father; Steve and his mother, Clarissa, have been hiding Jeff from the crowd outside since he found Louisa’s body. But there’s a lot that Clarissa doesn’t know, starting with the pregnancy and ending with the murderer. Steve killed Louisa — he had feelings for her, and he didn’t take it well when she told him that she and Jeff were having a baby.
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Speaking of couples in trouble, Kristin isn’t happy with Shafe for his behavior with the Panthers. (“You show up like you’re God’s gift to the world, ordering me around.”) She wants him out of the house tonight, but Shafe begs his way back to sleeping on the couch. There’s obviously a storm brewing for these two, but when Sam cracks Louisa’s case, the Shafes can at least agree that the LAPD will need Bunchy’s help if they expect to arrest a black man for her murder. Bunchy rides with Steve to the station and hands him over to Sam. In exchange, Sam makes a few promises. Commissioner Garrick has to persuade Tendaji to join the Panthers’ boycott, and Moses has to convince white business owners to give their black employees the day off in King’s honor. Moses is on board — he’s so on board that he practically blackmails Garrick into upholding his end of the deal — and the city doesn’t riot. There’s even a march of unity at Sam’s suggestion. The man has layers.
NEXT: Cheer up, Charlie